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Juneteenth: Happy New Federal Holiday

June 21, 2021

If you work in a Federal agency, or a bank, or a school, you might have discovered you had the day off on Friday. Courtesy of the new Federal holiday, Juneteenth.

If you aren’t from Texas, or black you might not have heard of Juneteenth. If you are familiar with Juneteenth, you probably have waited for this day for a long, long, LONG time.

Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865 when slavery ended. Technically, slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment. That wasn’t ratified by the states until December 6, 1865. We are all familiar with the Emancipation Proclamation. It was signed on January 1, 1863. But, that didn’t end slavery. President Lincoln didn’t have the authority to end slavery. As we know, it was codified into the Constitution. It required a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate it.

So, what did the Emancipation Proclamation do? It freed slaves who were in Confederate states that were under the control of the Union Army. If that sounds kind of convoluted, it is. But, it was also the only way Lincoln could really do anything. As the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, he was allowed to set military policy for areas currently in rebellion and ALSO under control of the Army.

So, if the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end slavery, and the 13th Amendment wasn’t ratified until December of 1865, what was so special about June 19th, 1865?

That’s when the war ended.

You have probably heard about Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox court house. That meeting took place on April 9, 1865.

Here’s something they didn’t teach in school. The war didn’t end when Lee surrendered. Robert E. Lee was not the commander of the Confederate forces. He was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Unlike the Union, where Lincoln appointed a single commanding general (First Major General Winfield Scott, then Major General George B. McClellan, then Major General Henry W. Halleck, and finally General of the Army Ulysses S Grant,) the South never consolidated their leadership. Instead, President Jefferson Davis maintained ultimate control. Each of the states in the South had their own Army. Remember that the South claimed it was in rebellion over states’ rights. Each state had it’s own army and Jefferson Davis, in the middle of leading a rebellion was justifiably concerned with a possible rebellion within his own rebellion.

So, when Lee surrendered, it took the largest Southern Army out of the war, but not everyone. Organized fighting would continue through the early summer of 1865. On June 19th of that year, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. This was the final area under Confederate control that still had slaves. General Granger informed the slaves that they were now free. That day has been celebrated ever since.

And now, it will be celebrated all across the US asa. Federal Holiday. So, celebrate the end of slavery, the beginning of the fulfillment of the lofty promises made in the Declaration of Independence. Celebrate the point at which our nation quit allowing people to be enslaved. We paid for this holiday with a lot of blood, and generations of broken bodies and families.

It’s been a long time coming.

Happy Juneteenth.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2021 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

  1. Thank you for a stirring, realistic recital of history. Well done!

    • You’re welcome. To often we treat history to lightly. We give the simplified version because we don’t think people will understand the longer version. I think Juneteenth will help a lot with learning history

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